MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR

As different from The Caine Mutiny as that was from Aurora Dawn- this should tap a wholly different vein. It is the kind of book women- Just past the age of illusion- will read with absorbed interest, occasional ironic recognition, and ultimate critical detachment. But- despite the ease with which the story can be criticized, it will be read. For Herman Wouk has gone behind the scene, the patina of the apparently smug, self-satisfied, successful matron, to the girl she was, starry-eyed about life and love and her own particular genius...Marjorie Morningstar, at seventeen, was sampling the sweetness and the bitterness of life in her parents' newly acquired residence- Central Park West, a far cry, she hoped, from the Bronx where she had been brought up. She and her mother were straining her father's resources to the limit, but Margie must meet the right boys. She was beautiful, reasonably intelligent, had her eye fixed on theatre as a goal (her stage name to be Marjorie Morningstar) — and was willint to ride roughshod over parental restrictions to get there. But religious taboos were ingrained; the cult of respectability was another part of her being. And this- her story- follows a career of near success, recurrent setbacks, gingerly savored temptations, and an obsession about one man, calling himself Noel Airman, glib talker, professional wolf, unstable dabbler in the arts, that nearly wrecked her life. Noel taunted her with the reality of her true ambition- a home in the suburbs, a husband with a regular paycheck, a recognized position as a respectable matron. And Marjorie tried- through the years- to prove him wrong, while striving to remake him in an image he refused to accept. There's so much that is sound and right and moving in the story that it may be quibbling to say it is overlong; that some of the situations are too pat; that some of the characters- Noel himself, and another admirer, Mike Eden- are too often used as oracles, airing their somewhat battered views of life; that the finale seems contrived to tie up the loose ends to everyone's satisfaction. For all these things are true- and yet it remains as an extraordinarily successful portrait of someone who is every woman, at some point or other. And for the major part of the novel, it is holding reading. Primarily a woman's book, although it may open the doors to some men's understanding and sympathy.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1955

ISBN: 0316955132

Page Count: -

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.

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THE OVERSTORY

Powers’ (Orfeo, 2014, etc.) 12th novel is a masterpiece of operatic proportions, involving nine central characters and more than half a century of American life.

In this work, Powers takes on the subject of nature, or our relationship to nature, as filtered through the lens of environmental activism, although at its heart the book is after more existential concerns. As is the case with much of Powers’ fiction, it takes shape slowly—first in a pastiche of narratives establishing the characters (a psychologist, an undergraduate who died briefly but was revived, a paraplegic computer game designer, a homeless vet), and then in the kaleidoscopic ways these individuals come together and break apart. “We all travel the Milky Way together, trees and men,” Powers writes, quoting the naturalist John Muir. “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” The idea is important because what Powers means to explore is a sense of how we become who we are, individually and collectively, and our responsibility to the planet and to ourselves. Nick, for instance, continues a project begun by his grandfather to take repeated photographs of a single chestnut tree, “one a month for seventy-six years.” Pat, a visionary botanist, discovers how trees communicate with one another only to be discredited and then, a generation later, reaffirmed. What links the characters is survival—the survival of both trees and human beings. The bulk of the action unfolds during the timber wars of the late 1990s, as the characters coalesce on the Pacific coast to save old-growth sequoia from logging concerns. For Powers, however, political or environmental activism becomes a filter through which to consider the connectedness of all things—not only the human lives he portrays in often painfully intricate dimensions, but also the biosphere, both virtual and natural. “The world starts here,” Powers insists. “This is the merest beginning. Life can do anything. You have no idea.”

A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.

Pub Date: April 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-393-63552-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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